I hopped from Honshū to Kyushu for a very big affair. Sumo. Along with tea ceremony, sushi, manga, geisha and Hello Kitty, sumo is one of the go-to associations that many people have of Japanese culture. I remember those conversations like they were yesterday…
“Oh, Katie you’re moving to Japan?”
“Why, yes. I am.”
“Well, I hope you’re ready to eat a lot of sushi and date a sumo wrestler. Oh, and I bought you some Hello Kitty socks.”
Of course, I am exaggerating a
lot little. However, these things are associated with Japan for a reason. As for sumo, it originated in Japan. It is also the only country where the sport is practiced professionally. But, luckily for you and for me, I did not meet the love of my life in the sumo ring. I also did not wear those Hello Kitty socks. Whether there is a correlation between the two, I’m not sure. But, I am sure of one thing. Even though sumo has a rich history and interesting traditions, it is not one of my favorite sports.
First of all, the stadium is massive–much, much larger than the rikishi (wrestlers). So, if you’re up in the nosebleeds, the wrestlers actually look like normal-sized people. This is the equivalent of being in the Dean Dome and squishing an ant-sized Tyler Zeller with your index finger and thumb. It may be entertaining, but deep down, it is terribly disappointing.
But thankfully, even though I forgot my binoculars, I still had the zoom on my camera. With the help of technology, I could check out the excitement. I could see that the rikishi threw salt in the ring prior to a match. This ritual is meant to purify the ring. Also, I found it interesting that rather than flashy and expensive signs, the advertising at sumo matches has also remained quite traditional. Before each match, simple banners were carried around the ring to show the sponsors of each rikishi. Very different than any athletic advertising I have ever seen in the states.
Finally, the most exciting aspect of sumo matches is choosing whom to cheer for based on the color of his mawashi, otherwise known as a silken loincloth. I have a feeling this annoys Japanese sumo fans to the same degree that girls completing their March Madness brackets based on a team’s uniform annoys American basketball fans. Regardless, it was still fun.
The climax (at least for me) of the day’s events occurred when two rikishi adorned in very different shades of blue mawashi stepped into the ring. Although there was no one there to share my excitement, all of you reading this will understand. The battle of the blues in Fukuoka, Japan. The sumo version of tobacco road. Public versus private. Roy versus Mike. Heels versus devils. Good versus evil. Clearly, I don’t need to state the obvious and tell you who won.
So, even though my first sumo experience may have had a shaky start, I am glad I had the opportunity to witness such a traditional form of Japanese athleticism. And, the day most certainly had a heel-of-a happy ending.